Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign against opioid addiction — and the stigma surrounding the disease — took another turn last week when he issued a pardon to a former drug user decades after she turned to stealing to support a growing heroin habit.
The governor pardoned Gail Naples, a New Jersey native now living in Orange County, NY, on Friday, granting her full clemency for a handful of nonviolent crimes she committed in Bergen, Passaic, and Morris counties in the early 1980s. Naples said her heroin addiction developed after she became hooked on painkillers she was prescribed as a teenager.
Since then, Naples has kicked the habit and been successful in her recovery, now staying clean for three decades and working with women in the Orange County jail to help them overcome the disease. But her criminal record has at times held her back, the governor’s office said — like interfering with her ability to secure employment — so she sought clemency through a program Christie established in 2010 with the parole board and Attorney General’s Office.
“I wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t for recovery,” Naples said Friday, joining Christie in Trenton for a ceremony to mark the pardon. “So, today I’m a productive member of society. I own my own home. I’m employable. I travel. I live life to the fullest. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a person in recovery.”
Christie has issued at least a dozen pardons during his term to a variety of former offenders, including granting clemency for several citizens who endured decades of addiction and multiple stints in jail. But while the governor has recently ramped up his efforts to address the disease, his staff insisted the latest pardon was not part of some larger push to expand clemency in his final months as leader. Christie, a two-term Republican, will leave office in January.
In recent weeks, Christie — as part of his role chairing a White House panel on opioid addiction — has outlined a national public-private partnership in which pharmaceutical leaders will work together to create more nonaddictive painkillers, improve options for medication-assisted treatment, and develop new overdose antidotes.
The governor also outlined more than two-dozen New Jersey-based programs that he will create or expand using $200 million in existing funds that he said are not needed for other programs this year. The efforts include a new push to create evidence-based pilot programs designed to provide holistic care to some of the poorest, most vulnerable residents.
Life of crime
On Friday, Christie said Naples story is a good example of how a substance-use disorder can lead to a life of crime — and also an illustration of how powerful recovery can be. Naples now works as an accountant in New York State.
“As a young adult, Gayle committed a series of criminal offenses before she received the treatment and the support that she needed to manage her addiction. She makes no excuses for the time decades ago, when addiction led her into her mishaps with law enforcement,” Christie said.
According to the pardon, Naples criminal history includes arrests and convictions including a September 1981 charge in North Arlington for possession of narcotics paraphernalia; a December 1981 bust for shoplifting in Wayne; a Bergen County larceny charge in March 1982; a Morris County arrest for drug possession in April 1982; and a shoplifting bust in Teaneck in August 1982.
“For all that she’s achieved over the past three decades, the State of New Jersey can do its part to recognize Gail for her successes and her willingness to help others,” he continued. “Her story should be broadcast as a symbol of hope and influence to those who are trying to overcome the disease of addiction and those who are in the midst of recovery now.”
The governor also used the event to reiterate the importance of the state’s new recovery hotline, 1-844-ReachNJ (732-2465), and urged those struggling from addiction to call or log on to the ReachNJ.gov website to connect with help. Advertisements for the hotline have been running since the spring, when Christie rolled out a new public education campaign tied to these services.